Is confidence enough to combat corporate sexism?

A new study reveals a third of British women feel more confident at work as a result of more female world leaders, but only 5 per cent note a crack in the glass ceiling. Is a confident female workforce enough to combat decades of corporate sexism?

One in three British women in the workforce say they feel more confident to speak their mind at work, following the rise of notable female leaders, such as Theresa May and Angela Merkel.

One in five expressed greater confidence to speak up and have a bigger voice in meetings, and a further one in 10 women say they are more willing to haggle or negotiate a business deal.

This research from Crunch Accounting also revealed a rise in a new wave of female entrepreneurs. 40 per cent of women said they feel more confident about pursuing their dream of starting a business.

“It’s fascinating to see that the female business community in the UK is feeling buoyed by the rise in female political leaders. Having said that, with powerful role models such as Angela Merkel and Theresa May frequently in the limelight, this doesn’t come as a total surprise,” Justine Cobb, operations director at Crunch said.

Strong political leaders from Argentina to India show global traction in equality
Strong political leaders from Argentina to India show global traction in equality

The glass ceiling still remains

According to Cobb, statistics from the Crunch database reveals that the number of women starting their own business has grown 42 per cent since 2010, and almost a third of all the new businesses are now founded by women.

While many women are feeling more confident, not all agree they are commanding more respect at work. Only 5 per cent of women said they are being taken a lot more seriously since the appointment of a female Prime Minister.

Cobb adds, “While it’s encouraging women feel more confident to speak out in meetings and to get ahead at work, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact gender inequality in the workplace is still happening”.

Is it just a confidence issue that is holding women back? According to authors Sue Unerman and Kathryn Jacob, although we are seeing more women today smashing the glass ceiling and getting to the top, in the workplace there’s still a glass wall.

Men and women can see each other clearly through the divide, but they don’t speak the same language or have the same cultural expectations. And as a result, women and their careers are suffering.

In their book, The Glass Wall: Success Strategies for Women at Work, Unerman and Jacob outline the assumptions and miscommunications that are holding women back for promotions and pay raises, and how to address them.

It’s not about working harder or being better than men: real concerted success for women comes from having a range of tactics up your sleeve that you can use to take control of any situation, they say.

Bridging the gap: is confidence enough?

Earlier this year, recruitment firm Right Management surveyed more than 200 male and female global leaders from companies with over half a million employees. The study found a huge generational difference in the perception of the gender pay and promotion gap.

The way millennials think about the gender gap compared with their gen X and baby boomer counterparts reveals a greater level of cynicism over how quickly equality in the workplace may come about.

While female millennials believe they are the generation to make equality happen, they are also the most pessimistic about the number of years it will take to achieve it, anticipating 22 years, in contrast to baby boomer males who believe it can be achieved eight years sooner, by 2030.

“Can we really afford to wait another generation until women have the same opportunities in the workplace as men? Millennials have the most potential to drive new behaviours around the treatment of women in the workplace but for them to feel inspired enough to act, they need to know a level playing field is within reach,” Ian Symes, general manager of Right Management UK & Ireland comments.

The number one thing employers can do to engage this demographic is to take a bolder, more proactive approach to creating and facilitating their career journeys, he says.

“Young professionals think about careers in terms of ‘waves’ not ladders and want the flexibility to switch gears at different stages. To back them in their mission to change the way work gets done, employers need to start offering them the tools to take complete ownership of their career paths and show them that they’re serious about nurturing their ‘career for me’ mentality.”

More than just a confidence issue, workplace structures in most corporate environments are inherently sexist. It may have nothing at all to do with how assertive or passive women are at the negotiating table. This suggests that the onus for bridging the gap is on businesses, starting with recruitment.

“We need to be building a culture that encourages regular conversations around personal and professional growth and assessable career development tools must play a major part in this,” Symes continues. By offering such tools, employers will increase engagement and ultimately productivity and performance.

Since 2008, the share of women in self-employment has increased by almost one-third. According to Symes, women in the corporate world are worn down by this circular conversation about equality. “It’s time to turn the talk into action or risk your best female talent leaving the business.”

Praseeda Nair

Kellen Rempel

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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